Thursday, March 1, 2012

Where Are the Corporate Hitmen? by Mike Cooper

LUCY BURDETTE: Mike Cooper made all of us salivate when two books were sold at auction to Viking about a year and a half ago. Now CLAWBACK is finally out and we're so happy to introduce Mike and his book. Mike is a superb writer--and I can tell you the plot is jammed with action. And he's visiting today to tell us about his wild theories about corporate crime...take it away Mike!

: Because I write thrillers with high-finance themes, I pay attention to the dark side of corporate competition. In a hyperactive, constantly changing landscape, the smallest edge matters. Especially under today’s total-deregulation approach, companies have become thoroughly ruthless. Dirty tricks, hacking rivals’ computers or stealing their code, pernicious lawsuits, patent trolls – it seems like anything goes.


Why don’t more CEOs go after their rivals directly … by hiring assassins?

Oh, it happens often enough abroad. Russian biznesmen are notorious for taking such shortcuts (though following consolidation of the crime/business syndicates under Putin, victims now tend to be interfering bureaucrats, investigative journalists, and the like). Countries like Pakistan are almost beyond the rule of law. Even Britain sees the occasional rival-tycoon killing.

And it happens in fiction all the time. Just not in the USA.

Why not? Here are some possible reasons:

1) Because it’s morally wrong. Ha ha ha! Maybe in grandpop’s industries — smokestack manufacturing, mass retail and so forth — but that’s sure not the case in finance, which, we should remember, now accounts for roughly a third of US corporate profits. There’s a reason stockbrokers and bankers rate abysmally low in Gallup’s annual Honesty and Ethics poll.

2) Because you might get caught. Thanks to a justice system skewed in favor of the rich and powerful, that’s not really a worry. Of course there’s no danger whatsoever of jailtime for white-collar offenses except, possibly, insider-trading. But even bloody crimes go unpunished. In 2010 a Colorado fund manager ran over a cyclist, permanently crippling him, and was granted a plea deal reducing all charges to some trivial misdemeanors. “A financial manager for wealthy clients will not face felony charges for a hit-and-run because it could jeopardize his job, prosecutors said” – a perfect summary of bankster impunity.

3) Because we’re all in the same club. Top corporate CEO’s are a homogeneous bunch – generally white, male, similarly educated, and by virtue of their vast wealth, living on a plane of existence far removed from what most people recognize as reality. The idea is that it’s harder to shoot someone you probably know socially, and certainly feel affinity for. On the other hand, any number of vituperative, no-holds-barred business rivalries (Ellison v. Gates, etc) would seem to suggest it doesn’t actually matter much.

4) Because it doesn’t work. Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. Maybe it’s not worth taking out your CEO rival over at your biggest competitor because someone else will just step up. And quite possibly he (rarely ‘she’) will be meaner, hungrier, and even more eager to stomp you back.

I like that explanation the best. After all, elite business managers are supposed to be all about rational decision making, game theory, and unemotional risk-benefit calculation. That’s what MBA school teaches them. So: they’re not taking contracts out on each other because, well, the percentage is too small.

But there might be one more possibility. Perhaps billionaires – being billionaires – can simply hire extremely competent contractors.

The kind who leave no trace. Who can rig any scenario, and make an intentional death as unremarkable as a slip-and-fall. Who’s to say all those skiing tragedies and cardiac events and careless driving incidents were really accidental?

Nah. That only happens in fiction.

LUCY: thanks for visiting JRW Mike! In honor of his new release, Mike is giving away one copy of CLAWBACK to a lucky commenter today.

Mike Cooper is a novelist. In his latest, CLAWBACK (Viking, March), an assassin has begun shooting the rottenest, worst-performing financiers on Wall Street. “Don’t bail them out, take them out!” – it’s a good tagline for a thriller, and Mike rather hopes it remains fiction. More at


Russian businessman-killings

Pakistan violence:

British tycoon killer

“happens in fictio

finance sector profits

Honesty & Ethics Poll

Colorado hit-and-run


  1. Shocking quote about the felony, but not really surprising. I like the idea of the non-accidental accident and look forward to reading Clawback, Mike.

  2. Unfortunately your article is on the mark. Reality for us is quite different than it is for them.
    Thanks for writing, Dee

  3. Congratulations, Mike! Interesting... depressing thoughts about why the Richie Riches of the world aren't bumping each other off... or, as you say, are they? Tell us about the title. Clawback.

  4. I'm looking forward to reading this one. Mike, I'm interested in hearing what inspired the book

  5. I've been waiting for Clawback's release for many months, having had the chance to chat with Mike about it at Crime Bake. The fundamental idea is fascinating: how the pursuit of ever more money skews morality. We see it playing out every day in the headlines, though not usually in the form of hands-on murder. (Of course, there are plenty of other ways greed kills.)

    I cannot wait to get my hands on your book, Mike. Congratulations!

  6. Thanks for the comments! Clawback is actually a term from finance (and corporate contracts generally): it means the forced return of compensation after a deal goes bad. Some British bankers -- though not US CEO's, yet -- are seeing their huge bonuses partially clawed back by the government, which had to bail out their companies.

    The novel's characters take a somewhat more direct approach :)

  7. The sad thing is that whatever we can imagine, the corruptive, amoral, unethical truth is probably far worse.

    I'm looking forward to reading CLAWBACK!

  8. The sad thing is that whatever we can imagine, the corruptive, amoral, unethical truth is probably far worse.

    I'm looking forward to reading CLAWBACK!

  9. Lucy, great way to kick off an interview! Mike, six more days!!

  10. Looking forward to Clawback--have enjoyed a number of corporate thrillers.

    But don't give the free book to Sophie :)

  11. Hi Mike,
    The new book sounds awesome!